A jury ordered Tesla to pay $137 million to Owen Diaz, a Black former employee who accused the carmaker of ignoring racial abuse he faced while working there, his lawyer, Lawrence Organ, said late on Monday.
“It’s a great thing when one of the richest corporations in America has to have a reckoning of the abhorrent conditions at its factory for Black people,” Mr. Organ, of the California Civil Rights Law Group, said in an interview.
The decision by the jury, in federal court in San Francisco, was reported earlier by Bloomberg News. Tesla’s lawyers did not immediately provide comment.
In his initial lawsuit, Mr. Diaz said he worked as an elevator operator at Tesla’s factory in Fremont, Calif., for about a year in 2015 and 2016. There, he said, a supervisor and other colleagues repeatedly referred to him using a racial slur. He also said employees had left drawings of derogatory caricatures of Black children around the factory.
After deliberating for about four hours, the jury agreed with Mr. Diaz’s assertion that Tesla had created a hostile work environment by failing to address the racism he faced, Mr. Organ said. The vast majority of the award — $130 million — was punitive damages for the company.
Despite the abuse he faced, Mr. Diaz said in the lawsuit, he reached a breaking point only when he witnessed similar racist epithets directed at his son, Demetric, who secured a job at the company with Mr. Diaz’s help.
“My son watched his father being broken in front of him,” Mr. Diaz said in an interview on Monday.
Mr. Diaz said in the suit that he was left feeling “demeaned, disrespected and devalued.” He quit in May 2016. He sued Tesla alongside his son and another Black former employee, but only the elder Mr. Diaz’s claims made it to trial.